Zika Virus: Should You Be Concerned?

UPDATE: It has been confirmed there is a connection between Zika and microcephaly. Read the CDC’s press release stating same.

With the new relationship with Cuba, concerns about the Zika virus are growing because of its increased presence in South American and Caribbean islands.

What is the Zika Virus?

Transmission Electron Micrograph (TEM) of Zika Virus
Transmission Electron Micrograph (TEM) of Zika Virus

According to the CDC, Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 and is named after the Zika forest in Uganda. In 1952, the first human cases of Zika were detected and since then, outbreaks of Zika have been reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Zika outbreaks have probably occurred in many locations. Before 2007, at least 14 cases of Zika had been documented, although other cases were likely to have occurred and were not reported. Because the symptoms of Zika are similar to those of many other diseases, many cases may not have been recognized.

How Does the Zika Virus Spread?

Zika virus is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito.

What Symptoms Should You Look for?

The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis is considered the tell-tale sign of Zika virus because of the noticeable red eyes.

The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.

This is also the reason that reports may be unreliable. There could be more cases than we think.

Why is the Zika Virus Such a Concern?

There is a widespread concern for the Zika virus, because researchers believe there may be a link between the virus and a birth defect in unborn babies. The birth defect is called microencephaly.

Comparison of a typical baby's head vs. one with Microcephaly
Comparison of a typical baby’s head vs. one with Microcephaly

There may also be a connection between Zika and Guillain-Barré Syndrome.

While these links may not be scientifically proven yet, researchers are being cautious and advising on travel warnings and awareness of the Zika virus.

This all sounds complicated, so let me break it down for you.

What is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

Guillain-Barré Syndrome is an uncommon sickness of the nervous system in which a person’s own immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness, and sometimes, paralysis.

This syndrome is temporary, lasting a few weeks to several months. However, some people can have permanent damage after recovering. Some recover completely healthy.

CDC is working the the Brazil Ministry of Health to study the possibility of a link between Zika virus and GBS.

What is Microencephaly?

Microencephaly is a medical condition in which the brain does not develop properly resulting in a smaller than normal head. Often people with the disorder have an intellectual disability, poor motor function, poor speech, abnormal facial features, seizures, and are short.

The reason for this concern is because there may be a link with pregnant women who get sick with the Zika virus give birth to premature babies with microcephaly.

Again, researchers at the CDC are cautious to confirm this link; however they have issued travel warnings for areas that have the Zika virus.

You can find more information about the travel areas here: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html.

Source: CDC

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